An informative biopic of the famous Tolkien in his formative years.
Director: Dome Karukoski (Tom of Finland)
Screenplay: David Gleeson (Cowboys & Angels), Stephen Beresford (Pride)
Cast: Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply), Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Runtime: 1 hr 52 min
By: John DeSando
“A safe fairyland is untrue to all worlds.” J.R.R. Tolkien
Although the name Tolkien conjures up thoughts of fantastical tales about hobbits, rings, and magic of the highest order, there’s little magic and much reality in the new biography, Tolkien. Yet there is much romance, in fact a genial part of an otherwise difficult life.
In reality this story of J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult), up until he becomes well-known for his fantasies while he is bringing up four children and loving his “elfin” princess, Edith (Lily Collins), has a magic of its own. At the same time, it acknowledges the serious shortcomings of an impecunious genius struggling to be heard in the din of class restrictions and WWI.
Besides the delightful early courtship of Tolkien and Edith, the best romance in a long time as far as I am concerned, is the romance of his boy’s club. It started before the four culturally gifted young men enter Oxford and Cambridge and goes through the war, which decimated their little intellectual “fellowship.” The support they gave each other, the companionable joy, has rarely been so lovingly captured on film. Lamentably, the boys never develop fully as characters, perhaps because of time restrictions.
Satisfying is his discovery by rhetoric professor Wright (Derek Jacobi), who eventually acknowledges Tolkien’s genius with language. For those skeptical about the importance of education, watch Tolkien come alive in Wright’s hands.
Although these early years seem accurately reported, the joy of this film is in seeing the slow but inexorable growth from a small boy raptly listening to his mother’s fantastical readings to a young man doodling heroic figures on horses and scratching out inchoate stories that will give birth to some of the most influential literature in the Western world.
“If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it's my wonder and delight in the earth as it is, particularly the natural earth.” Tolkien
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com